In a professional service business a call-out charge is alien. If I meet a client for the first time just to get to know them, I am not going to charge a fee; that is unless I have to go half way across the country at the risk of being seen as a source of free information. However, generally speaking, the first meeting involves deciding whether we can work together, what we expect of each other, and agreeing a fee for the work or project. Paid work comes later in the relationship, and of course we need to manage that payment.
The situation is not the same as with those who visit our homes to fix things. I am talking about plumbers and electricians and gas fitters. I accept that if you have four or five appointments in a day and you do not know what is involved before you get to a customer’s premises, it is reasonable to say “I have a call-out charge of £50.” Otherwise you could have days of not much paid work if you were unlucky, and generally most customers will pay £50 for peace of mind even if the repair turns out to be trivial.
However, some traders repeat the mantra of the £50 call-out charge when something they are supposed to have fixed or replaced goes wrong within hours, a day or a week. That is when a customer is going to start to feel ripped off. One might have paid for significant work beyond the initial call-out charge. If something goes wrong with the initial work we should expect it to be fixed without a further charge. If there is another problem, of course we should expect to pay for it to be fixed.
Much of my own work involves dealing with Government departments. They are not very efficient. My service and on-line filings can be perfect (well of course they are :)) but the response from HMRC for example can be wrong and need correcting. I include the second bite of the cherry in the fee the client pays; in other words there is no more to pay and it is my loss if it takes me an age to sort matters out. Usually it does not.
Call-out charges need to be thought about carefully. The real issue is partly about business ethics, but mainly how the customer feels after her / his interaction with you. It is about your reputation. Will they be happy, use your services again and recommend you, or will they feel ripped off and tell everyone?
Fee management and charges affect not only our cash flow and current business, but also our future business in terms of repeat work and growth. It needs thinking about, doesn’t it?